The most common complaint I hear from people trying to raise money is that they don’t have enough time.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day”

“I can’t get everything done”

“I’m just one person”

“How do those other nonprofits get it all done?”
Sound familiar?
Here’s some good news: you’ll never get it all done.
That’s right – you’ll never get everything done that’s currently on your list, so let it go, Elsa.
Instead of trying to get it ALL done, focus on getting the RIGHT things done.
That’s a big, game-changing difference. And it’s good news for those of us who feel the pressure to do it all.
The key is to focus on the things that will move you faster toward your goals.
While you think about that, let me give you some practical advice to recover lost time during the day.
Here are 10 common time wasters in fundraising along with some ideas to overcome them.

1. Alerts

How many beeps, bells, and whistles are blaring at you in a typical hour?
(Maybe even as you’re reading this!). You know what those are? They’re a Giant Distraction. So, turn them off.  They’re interrupting you, which causes you to need up to 500x the amount of time to get things done.
When you need to get something important done, turn off your phone and shut down your email so you can concentrate for a little bit. If anything major happens in the world, someone will come tell you. You’ll be way more productive when your focus isn’t interrupted by all the bings and buzzes.
I find that not only do the alerts break my focus, but I get really irritable. So, if you’re the person I talk to at 3 o’clock after I’ve been trying all day to get something done, and I don’t exactly sound happy, that’s probably what’s going on for me. I bet I’m not alone – I bet this happens to you, too.
Stop the interruptions, turn off  the alerts, and reclaim your focus.

2. Social Media Black Hole

Is this you? You log on to Facebook just to “check in” and 2 hours later you’re watching a video of a cat in a shark costume riding a vacuum cleaner.
Social media is a great tool for connecting and communicating, but it can also suck a lot of your time and attention.
You don’t need to constantly update your status or lurk around to see what other people are up to.  Honestly, I find that the more time I spend on social media, the worse I feel. Between the negative political rants, people posting their amazing vacation pictures (which leave me with trip envy), and all the other craziness, it all starts to drag me down.
Here’s what you can do to not get lost in the social media black hole: have a plan.
Know which social media platforms you want to use, what days/times you’ll post, and what content you’ll post. Then when you log on, you should be able to post, comment on a few things and respond to messages in just a few minutes. If you stay online any longer than that, you’re playing. Nothing wrong with playing, just don’t do it on work time when you need to be getting other things done.
If you’re not sure you can trust yourself, set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Easy, peasy.

3. Unprepared Volunteers

A common solution for getting more done is to recruit a volunteer. After all, volunteers are great – they give their time and help get things done.
Actually, they’re only productive if you set them up for success. If you expect them to figure out what needs to be done themselves, you’re going to be disappointed.
So, get organized. Have a job description before you recruit a volunteer. Find the right volunteer for the job, whose interests and skills match the job you need done. Orient them. Train them. Support them. Celebrate their wins and eat chocolate together.
You’ll both be happier and more productive.

4. Grant Blasts

It’s so tempting.
You get one good grant written, and you think that if you just send it out to as many foundations as possible, you’ll increase your chances of actually getting one.
But, it doesn’t work that way.
Getting grants is all about matching up your organization’s needs with the foundation’s interests. No match = no grant.
Blasting out a proposal to 10 or 20 foundations without customizing it is a waste of time. So is assuming that every foundation will want to fund your programs.
Take the time to do the research. Make the initial phone calls. Customize the proposal to show how your program fits the foundation’s interests.
You’ll increase your odds of getting money.  And may the odds be ever in your favor.

5. Board mass request

I bet you’ve done this:
You email your entire Board to ask them to help you with something. Maybe you’re asking each one of them to give you 5 names to send an appeal to. Or you’re asking each one of them to come up with a sponsor for an event.
You hit “Send” and wait.
And then…
They don’t respond.
It’s a waste of time to treat your Board as a group. Treat them as individuals and watch what happens. You’ll get more response.
There’s a weird group dynamic that happens when you ask them all for something either in a meeting or in an email. Some people think someone else will respond. Or they think since there are so many Board members, you won’t notice if they don’t respond. Or they think you don’t mean them. Or they have some other reason. The bottom line is that they feel no sense of urgency to respond.
Email them one at a time and ask for their help. Better yet, pick up the phone and call. It’ll take a little time, but you’ll get the result you’re looking for.

6. Cold calling the Chamber list

It seems like a good idea, but it’s not.
You’ll never mail (or email) the entire list from the local Chamber of Commerce and get sponsors.
It’s a cold call. When’s the last time you responded to a cold call?
Just don’t.
You’ve got better opportunities and lower-hanging fruit.

7. Wordsmithing an appeal.

This one’s my favorite (insert eye roll here).
You can spend a LOT of time trying to get the words in an appeal just right. And most of that time will be wasted.
Most people don’t read fundraising letters. They skim.
They’ll read the salutation, skim headlines, quotes, photo captions, then read the ps.
Finally, they’ll look at the reply card, and if anything has grabbed their attention, they’ll think about giving.
Trust me, they’re not reading the whole letter (mostly because they’ve been trained through experience that fundraising letters are boring).
So, spend more time making the letter inspirational and donor-focused, and less time changing the word “that” to the word “which.” Make the skimmable pieces matter. Use good graphics. And ask for something meaningful.
Oh, and never create a letter by committee. It’s wordsmithing hell.

8. Long meetings

I have a friend who said to me once “if you can’t get it done in an hour, you need to rethink the purpose of the meeting.”
Thanks, Tim.
He’s right. His point is that long meetings that meander and are unfocused are crazy unproductive.
Be clear about the outcome you’re looking for from the meeting. Have the right people there. Stay on task. Get finished. Then chit-chat later.

9. Binder activities

Another favorite of mine (insert even bigger eye roll than before).
A binder activity requires you to do a lot of work to create a plan of some sort that goes into a notebook and sits on a shelf to gather dust. Once it lands on the shelf, you never look at it again.
Talk about a waste of time!
Plans are not made to be filed away. They’re meant to be used.
In order for a roadmap to be useful, you have to look at it regularly to make sure you stay on course.
Same thing with your plan.
Commit to using it or don’t bother with the process of creating it. An unused plan means that the time you spent to create it was wasted.

10. Nickel-and-dime fundraising

You can work really, really hard on fundraising and only bring in a tiny bit of money.
For example, lots of restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings have charity nights.
You know how it works – You ask people to eat at BWW on a specific night and tell their server they’re supporting your nonprofit. Then the restaurant gives a portion of the proceeds to you.
Seems like a good thing, but it’s not.
You can spend a TON of time promoting it and spreading the word, and barely make a couple of hundred dollars.
You’ll never fully fund your nonprofit with fundraising like this. It’s not sustainable. You’re working too hard. The ROI is too low.
Stop doing anything (especially events) that don’t bring in enough to be worth the squeeze. You need more than nickels and dimes to fund your programs.
Think bigger. Pick one event and pour all your energy into it. You’ll raise more money.

My challenge to you:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it – create more time in your day that you can be thinking, planning, connecting with donors, and raising more money.
Cue the Mission Impossible music

  • Look through this list of time wasters.
  • Think about where you might be losing valuable time in your day to things that just aren’t worth it.
  • Pick 1 and stop doing it.
  • Feel panicky that you’ve let something go. Sing a chorus of ‘Let It Go’ (or not).
  • Feel better when you realize you can now do something more substantial to raise money.
  • Drop me a note and let me know how it’s going.

One of the best ways to get work done for your nonprofit is with extra hands.

Think about it: You’re one person. You can only do so much.

There’s a limit to the amount of work you can do during the day.

And I’m really sure you have more to do than you can get done.
So, you have choices. You can

a)      Work yourself ragged trying to do it all yourself (not a great solution)

b)      Just ignore all the stuff that needs to get done (yeah, right!)

c)       Get help
I vote for C.

Help can come in many forms. You can recruit volunteers or find interns. For lots of things, you can use a fundraising committee.

Don’t groan – I’ve got some good stuff here. 😉

What makes a successful committee

Fundraising CommitteeCommittees are a great way to involve a lot of people to get things done.

When it’s working, people’s skills are being used, meetings are productive and folks leave energized.

When it doesn’t work, meetings drag on, conversations go off-topic and nothing gets accomplished. It’s not fun and people tend to stop showing up for meetings.

So, how do you create a successful committee?

Start by getting clear and answering these questions:

  • What’s the specific purpose of the committee? Be very clear about what the committee will do (and won’t do). Is the committee meant to plan and execute a special event? Acknowledge donors? Something else? Put the purpose in writing so you can hand it to the committee members.
  • What’s the lifespan of the committee? What’s the start and end date for the committee’s work? Or will it go on indefinitely? Hint: people are more likely to say “yes” when they know when their work will be completed.
  • How many committee members will there be? Will there be lots of people to help or just a few? By the way, the more people there are, the more likely people are to not feel engaged and even drop out. I like 6 to 10 people on a committee, especially for planning an event.
  • Who will lead the committee? By recruiting a committee chair, you’ll get help in forming the committee and recruiting members. That person will set the tone for the group and provide leadership along the way, so choose wisely! Sometimes a great committee chair will appear and other times it’s like pulling teeth to find one. Just don’t give up. The committee won’t function well without a leader.
  • What decisions can the committee make and implement? Will the committee be authorized to spend money? Can they agree to things on behalf of the organization, like hiring a band or reserving a ballroom? Be clear with them on this one so they don’t try to do things they shouldn’t.
  • Who will the committee report to? Staff? Board? Another committee?
  • Will the committee make progress reports? If so, what format will they be in? If you want a committee report at the Board meeting, who will be the committee’s representative? Or can they submit the report in writing instead of in person.
  • How will the committee measure success? This relates back to the purpose of the committee. If it’s to run a special event, then success will be measured in dollars raised and attendance. And maybe sponsorships secured.

Okay, so that’s what makes a committee successful. Now let’s look at what causes them to fail.

Reasons why committees fail

Fundraising CommitteeYou’ve probably been part of a committee where you were miserable. I certainly have. And it’s no fun.

Let’s look at some reasons why committees fall short.

  • Lack of clarity. When no one is clear what a committee is meant to do, conversations can wander and people leave meetings feeling nothing really got accomplished. Tip: don’t let the committee itself figure out its job. Set it for them.
  • Lack of commitment. People sometimes say “yes” to serving on a committee without really committing to participating, and their behavior proves it – their attendance at meetings will be sporadic and they may agree to take on tasks yet never complete them. It’s frustrating to other committee members when this happens, and it impedes the committee’s progress.
  • Weak leadership. When the committee chair doesn’t have good leadership skills, the committee will flounder. People will tend to insert their own agenda and someone may even try to take over.
  • Bait-and-switch. This happens when you create a committee to work on a project, then you override their decisions, leaving them feeling defeated and powerless. I guarantee you the members will all disappear and not come back!


Tips for making committees work

Committees are not created equally – some are great and a lot of fun to serve on, and others bore you to tears. Be purposeful in what you’re putting together and hold an intention to make it as good as it can be for everyone involved.
Here are some tips for making committees successful:

  • Give new members an orientation. Don’t just throw people in – set them up for success. Give them the tools they need to succeed and explain the who, what, when, and why of the committee.
  • Create an agenda template for the committee. Give the committee an outline for their meetings to help them stay on track.
  • Keep a list of action items. When someone agrees to take on a task, have someone make note of it, then after the meeting, share the entire action item list with the full committee. This helps people remember what they said they’d do and also puts a little peer pressure on them to actually get it done.
  • Thank the members for their service. Regular acknowledgement and maybe even recognition can be powerful. A text, a handwritten note, and even “thank you all for your good work” at a meeting or two can go a long way. If the committee is planning an event, thank them at the event in front of everyone.
  • Make it inclusive. Depending on the purpose of the committee, you may want to invite people from outside the organization to join in. Maybe there’s someone who attended the event last year and would love to help with the planning this year. Maybe there’s a donor who just mentioned that they’d love to get more involved who would be perfect for your committee. Think outside the box so you don’t use the same people over and over (which leads to burnout).
  • Make it fun. The more fun it is, the more people will participate, and they more they’ll enjoy their experience (which means they may do it again!). If appropriate, have a glass of wine at your meeting. Have the meeting onsite at your facility if that helps. Do whatever makes it more fun that just sitting in a board room.


What would you add? Click the comment link and share your experiences with good (or bad) committees.

You may have heard the saying and it’s definitely true:
It’s easier to keep a current donor than go get a new one.

Donor RetentionActually, you need to do both. You need to keep as many donors as you can and constantly work to bring in new ones.
So, how do you keep your current donors? How do you build loyalty so that they want to give to you no matter what else is happening in their lives?
Simple – love on them.

Donor Love


Way too many people who are raising money for nonprofits see donors as checkbooks. They ask for donations when they need money, and other than that, don’t think much about their donors.
Oh, sure, they throw the occasional newsletter at their donors, but it’s thrown together at the last minute, not sent consistently, and honestly, not done with much thought about making it donor friendly.
Donors can feel pretty fast when you don’t value them. They’ll pick up that vibe and leave your donor family quicker than a duck on a June bug.
So, I hope you’re seeing already that the very first thing you need to do is shift how you see your donors.
Your donors are your partners. They’re your friends. They can be advocates and ambassadors. They can be your biggest support not just in money but also in encouragement, enthusiasm, and connections.
They want to see you succeed. They want to be part of the winning team. They want to help make a difference.
You getting this?
Keeping them around is pretty simple. Help them feel like part of your family. Include them in the good stuff as well as the bad. Treat them as part of your team and they’ll act like it.
One really simple thing you can do is to inspire your donors every chance you get.

Donor Inspiration


Donor RetentionTo inspire someone is to influence them or fill them with a particular thought or feeling.
Imagine if you could purposefully influence your donors to feel compassion for the lives you’re trying to change, and feel motivation to whip out their wallet to partner with you to make it happen.
That’s a lot different than guilting someone into writing a check. Or begging them to give.
Inspiration is the magic that most nonprofits are missing.
It’s hard to inspire donors when you’re busy, overwhelmed or too focused on internal problems.
You have to make time for delivering inspiration. You have to understand your donors well enough to know what will inspire them. You have to plan for it. You have to make it a priority.
To create loyal donors, you need to provide regular inspiration. You can’t create a video once a year and expect that to move your people to give big all year long.
Be prepared to drip out something inspiring to your supporters at least once each month. It could be a story, a video, a testimonial or something else, but regular connections with their heartstrings will keep donors engaged.
When people are inspired, they stick around. They stay interested. They keep giving.
When people aren’t feeling donor love from your organization, they go away. When they believe their gift doesn’t matter or they think they’re just a number among your many supporters, they’ll drift away.
One way you can help them feel the love is with something I call warm touches.

Warm Touches

A warm touch is an interaction with a donor that leaves them feeling good about your nonprofit.
It’s relevant and interesting to them. (So it can’t be all about your nonprofit or what YOU think is important for them to know.)
It’s thoughtful. It might even be a surprise.
If it makes them smile, it’s a warm touch. If they like it so much they share it with others, it’s a really warm touch!
Warm touches help keep people connected to your mission. They deepen the relationship and build trust.
Here are some good examples of warm touches:

  • Thank-you phone call. Regardless of who makes the call, taking the time to personally thank a donor is powerful. Not many nonprofits do it, so you can easily stand out from the pack.
  • Video update. Shoot a short video to give donors an update on a specific case, especially if you used a particular story to ask them to give. If you’re planning to share this video with lots of donors, just imagine talking to one of them. Visualize one person and shoot the video for them. It’ll make it warmer and more connecting.
  • Hand-written note. A personalized, hand-written note is a wonderful warm touch. Hardly anyone does this anymore and you’ll really stand out, especially if your donors are Baby Boomers (that generation tends to value hand-written notes).

There are many more ideas out there. Spend a little time getting creative and you can come up with ideas of your own.
Here are a few warm touches I’ve received lately that really hit the target.
Valentine’s Day card. This came from my local Habitat for Humanity and was a ‘thank you’ for being a monthly donor. I love that it’s signed by the entire staff!  You’ll see it was homemade and clearly not expensive. What gets me is that they took the time to make it and send it.


Donor Retention
Donor Retention
Thank-you video. This came from a client after I suggested she do this for important donors. I love that she practiced on me! What makes this so powerful is that she personalized it by saying my name in the video. Clearly, this took a little thought and some time (and a puppy!). I was thrilled that I was special enough to warrant my own video!!
By the way, I’ve had several clients doing these videos lately, and they’re all getting amazing feedback from their clients. If you aren’t already doing this, you need to. Just saying.

Special event gift. This one literally happened last night! I was attending an event for a client, and they had a special gift waiting for me at the table. I love that they know this is my favorite wine and had it open and ready for me. Notice the personalized note attached to the bottle. You better believe I felt like the most special guest in the place! It was incredibly thoughtful, and I noticed that no one else had a bottle of wine waiting for them.

I love that it was thoughtful and I love that it was personalized. It made me feel extra special, which caused me to spend generously at the silent auction. 😉
Donor Retention
Hand-written note. I’m a monthly donor to Planned Pethood of Georgia and I recently got a sweet note card from them with a car magnet inside. I love seeing envelopes in the mailbox with hand-written addresses – I know there’s something good inside!
Donor Retention
So, there I’ve given you 4 good examples of warm touches that made me as a donor and supporter feel really good about these organizations. Now, I’m more committed than ever to keep giving to them.
I recommend that you do some brainstorming about warm touches you can give your best donors. Start with your top 10 donors and think about something you can do in the next 60 days to really wow them individually. Then think about something you can do (maybe a video) to inspire the rest of your donors.

Be prepared to use these practices consistently over the next 6 months to a year, then watch your donor retention rates climb!

fundraising planUnless you’re an experienced cook, you wouldn’t wander into the kitchen and start haphazardly throwing food into a pot.

You’d start by choosing the dish you want to eat. The one that makes your mouth water just thinking about it.

Then you’d organize your ingredients and work through the process of chopping, mixing, and heating.

Oooookay, I’m hungry now.

My Mom likes to improvise in the kitchen. If she’s out of an ingredient, she finds something to substitute. It always seems to work out okay, but when I try that, it’s disaster.

You know why?

It’s because cooking is a strength for her. It’s not one for me.

Play to your strengths


In fundraising, it’s important to play to your strengths.

What are you good at? What can you do easily and get consistent results?

I see lots of people trying the “latest thing” looking for a quick win. And it doesn’t work.

The nonprofits I see that are successful, raising all the money they need to fully fund their budget, are the ones that put some thought into what they’re going to do. In a nutshell, they plan.

They don’t just throw something on a piece of paper and call it a plan. They choose fundraising strategies because they know they’ll work. They choose strategies that play to their strengths.

Play to your personal strengths

So, what are YOU good at? Are you a great writer? Excellent communicator? Something else?

You may want to sit down and list out the things you personally are great at.


Because you need to be leveraging them in your plan. If you don’t, you’ll spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like doing, which will suck your energy and leave you frustrated (I bet you know what I’m talking about!).

Here’s a quick exercise that can help you identify your strengths:

It’s all about working ABOVE the line. Many of my clients now use this language internally with other staff to make sure everyone is working in the areas they are best at. When that happens, productivity goes up and frustration goes down. Doesn’t THAT sound good!

Once you know your personal strengths, it’s time to look at what your nonprofit has going for it.

Organizational assets

Organizational assets are things that make your organization stand out.  Often, they are strengths you can use for fundraising.

Here are some examples of nonprofit organizational assets:

  • Compelling mission (like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless)
  • Large public base of support
  • Incredible organization name recognition (like Habitat for Humanity or YMCA)
  • Well-known staff or Board members
  • Facility that lends itself well to a tour (like a shelter or food pantry)
  • Organizational vehicles that are driven around town regularly
  • Website with LOTS of daily visitors
  • Opportunity for earned income (like a thrift store or gift shop)
  • Well-known local, regional, or national celebrity who supports your organization

I had a client a few years ago that was struggling to raise money. One of the first things I did was to assess their organizational assets. After asking a few questions, I learned that they had an email list of over 10,000 people. That’s definitely an asset! They had been sending a monthly email newsletter for over a year just to keep these people up-to-date on their activities. Somehow, it had never occurred to them to ask these folks for a donation. So, we crafted a warm, heart-tugging appeal and sent it out. They raised over $10,000 in about a week. Yay, right? We created a plan to continue nurturing those folks and ask a couple more times throughout the year. Problem solved.

Personal strengths + organizational assets = basis for fundraising success

fundraising planWhen you create your fundraising plan based on your personal strengths and your organization’s assets, you’ll set yourself up for success. You’ll be working in areas that feel comfortable and that you’re good at, which will move you faster toward your goal.

For example, if you’re an introvert and you’re good at writing, these should be in your plan:

  • Grant writing
  • Donor-focused newsletters
  • Blogging

If you’re more of an extrovert and love talking with and being with people, these should be in your plan:

  • Friendraising events
  • Update and thank-you calls
  • Personal asks

That doesn’t mean you get to exclude the things you aren’t good at. You might need to develop a skill or stretch just a little to cover a much-needed strategy. Or maybe you should hire someone who has the skills you don’t have. It’s a decision you’ll need to make based on your individual situation.

The real trick is to carve out the time to figure out what you have to work with and create your plan based on that. Once you have a fundraising plan that plays to your strengths, the sky’s the limit.

Want help with your fundraising plan? Check out theFundraising Blueprint. It’s a self-study course that walks you through the steps of creating a plan so you can stop fighting fires, stop working evenings and weekends, and start bringing in the money your nonprofit needs. Get started now.

getting grants“How do I get grants?”

This is one of the most common questions I get from newbies, startups, and folks who are still underfunded.

I think maybe they’re looking for a silver bullet that will magically make grants appear for them.

Well, it’s definitely not a “build it and they will come” situation.

Just because you have a nonprofit and are doing good work doesn’t mean money will suddenly come flying in. And it certainly doesn’t mean grants will become easy to get.

Grants are competitive. You have to prove that your program or project is better than anyone else’s. You have to show that the Grantor’s money will be well spent with you and they’ll get great results for their investment.

It’s about finding the sweet spot between what you’re trying to do and what a foundation wants to fund.

I remember when I first started writing grants. I loved the idea that I could put together a proposal and get thousands of dollars for my nonprofit. It would be easy and I was a good writer, so success should come easily.

Except that it didn’t. It was a little harder than I thought it would be.

The first proposal I put together was what I now call a “kitchen sink” proposal. I put everything in it. I asked for operating support and money for a vehicle and money to hire a staff person.

You won’t be surprised when I tell you it wasn’t funded.

But I didn’t give up.

I spent the next 6 months or so learning everything I could about grants. I attended a couple of workshops, read a book, and quizzed other fundraisers about how they were getting grants. I looked at samples. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote paragraphs describing my programs.

getting grantsAnd the next year, when that same grant came around again, I was ready. I wrote a powerful, persuasive, clear proposal, and we got $40,000 to hire a new program person.

Woohoo! I was hooked. I wanted to do it again.

After that, I kept learning and kept writing. My success rate skyrocketed to about 70% (I was getting about 7 out of every 10 grants I applied for).
How did I go from zero to hero?

Keys to getting grants

1. Keep learning. I never stopped learning about how good grants were put together. I learned about how foundations make their decisions. I listened to what experts said to do or not do. I soaked up everything I could to make me a better grant writer.
2. Keep trying. I didn’t quit when that first grant was turned down. And I could have. I could have said “that doesn’t work” and walked away from grant writing. But I kept at it until I got good at it. As a result, I started getting thousands in grant dollars.
3. Define what needs funding. I spent some time looking at my organization in different ways looking for things foundations would fund. I could ask for operating money. I could ask for money for equipment or staff. I created “Fundable Areas” and wrote descriptions of them. It made my life easier when I did research, because I had lots of things to fund instead of just our annual operating budget.

For example, a program providing after-school programs to kids might look for grants for education (if you’re doing tutoring), grants that fight gangs (because if they’re with you, they’re not doing gang stuff), grants for recreation (if you’re doing any kind of sports), and there’s probably a lot more.

4. Include direct and indirect costs. I found out that there aren’t a lot of grants out there to cover salaries and overhead expenses. It occurred to me that some of our programs depended on staff to run them or a facility to house them. So I included in program budgets direct expenses like supplies for the program and indirect expenses like utilities for the building where the program was housed. It took some time and effort to figure out how to allocate the entire utility bill across our programs, but when I was finished, it made sense and I could explain it if anyone asked. The bottom line was that I found a way to get some of the staff salaries covered by including them in program budgets.

Here’s a video where I explain how to include the indirect costs:

5. Get organized. I created a calendar of deadlines so I could keep up with what was coming up. I did a couple of last-minute grants and they were awful. So I decided to get ahead of the curve to prevent that nonsense from happening again. A Deadline Calendar was simple and easy to create, and kept me from being behind the 8-ball.

6. Go for a ‘hand-in-glove’ fit. Don’t put a proposal together and send it to every possible foundation. Find those funding opportunities that are a great fit for your program or project and target those. Tailor your proposal for that foundation’s interests. You’ll actually improve your chances of getting a grant using this technique.

There are tons more tips I could give you, like follow the foundation’s guidelines to the letter. It’s one way they weed proposals out. Or start early so you have plenty of time for collaborations, both internally and externally (I could tell you a WHOLE story about a Program Director I butted heads with to get program data).

Good grants start with research. Find local access to the Foundation Center database and see what funding opportunities you can find. Then write the best proposal you can, being clear and concise. Submit your grant and see what happens. Celebrate when you get one, and learn from it when you don’t.

It’s the best way to get more grants, no matter how big your nonprofit is.

Want more help with grants? Check out our Grant JumpStart program. It’s designed to help you understand the grant process quickly, from research to relationship building, and start getting grants fast!


Or if you’d rather have someone do it for you, we have a Grant Writer on staff who can help with private foundation grants, United Way, and complicated housing grants. Email for details.

Learning to say “no” isn’t easy.
Most of us take on more than we can manage.
I seem to have some subconscious desire to be Wonder Woman – I’m always biting off more than I can chew.
I remember as a Development Director, I would take on a LOT of projects, and work furiously to get it everything done. I took things home almost every night and sometimes weekends, too.
Most of the time, I got it done. I was good at rounding up volunteers and I had some good interns.
Sometimes, it was ridiculously stressful.
Why did I do that? Why do YOU do that?
I think it’s because we want to do well. We want to be successful. We know that when we raise more money, we can change more lives.
I think it’s also because we haven’t learned how to draw our boundary lines for ourselves.
It’s not something we’re taught in grade school. No one pulls us aside and says “Here’s how you take good care of yourself.”
So, I thought you might like to meet someone who has done a FABULOUS job of saying “no” and is still very successful.

Meet Courtney Steckel.

Courtney is the Director of Development at the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
She’s been in the job a little over two years, and at the time, was brand new to the world of fundraising. Previously, she worked in pharmaceutical sales.
Courtney also is a wife and a Mom, with four school-age kids.
While Courtney is committed to being successful on the job, she’s not willing to let it bleed over into her home life.
I started working with Courtney after she’d been on the job just a few months. She has a great understanding of the power of relationships, and has been able to translate her skills to fundraising pretty easily.
I was stunned when she told me she does not have email on her cell phone.

“It was a conscious choice. In my previous job, I had a ‘CrackBerry.’ I was working all the time, and the boundary lines were very messy. Even though I was successful, I wanted something different. I wanted to spend more time with my kids and less time on conference calls. When I took this new job, I knew I needed more work/life balance and I knew I needed to negotiate it from the beginning.”
She says it was a shock at first for everyone. But now they’ve learned that if they email her in the evening, they won’t hear back from her until the next morning. And guess what? It’s working out just fine.
She put her boundaries in place during the hiring process. She told her new boss what she wanted and he was hesitant at first. She says she had to prove that she could do the job during normal work hours.
Think about that – years ago, we expected people to get the job done during the day. Now it’s kind of odd. Weird how things have changed!
Courtney works her schedule so she’s off one half day a week. That gives her extra time with her kiddos. She makes it to all the holiday parties at school and reads in the classroom.
She says that at first, other staff were jealous. Of course, once she started raising big bucks, it was easier to justify her schedule, but the truth is that anyone can create a schedule that supports them and their lifestyle. Courtney points out that most staff didn’t understand the life of a Fundraiser. “We wouldn’t ask other staff to go to an event on the weekend or spend their evening writing a grant. Once they understood, it got easier.” It’s amazing how much more productive people are when they’re happy!
I was curious how Courtney got her new employer to agree to this unique situation.
“It took several meetings. It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t give up. I knew what was important and I wasn’t giving in.”
I’m sure that took a lot of nerve and being willing to lose the job because of the limits she asked for.
“On your deathbed, you won’t say ‘I wish I would have worked more.’ You’ll probably wish you’d spent more time with the ones you love. That’s what I’m doing.”
Courtney leads by example. Her team also has some flexibility in their schedule with some working part of the time from home. “Our office is so small, we wouldn’t all fit in here anyway. And there’s no privacy for making calls to donors.”  The organization is mid-way through a capital campaign that will help alleviate that problem soon.
Courtney’s advice to others is this: “Figure out what works and create a culture of acceptance. Help non-fundraising staff understand that raising money doesn’t fit neatly into a 9-5 job.”
After she started to work at Dayton Humane, Courtney helped start a ‘Sunshine Committee’ with the purpose of strengthening moral and helping staff to get to know each other better. It’s been a big hit and the organization has an amazingly strong culture.
“An organization is only as good as its people. If they don’t want to be there, you’ll have problems.”
She’s totally right.
My big takeaway from Courtney is that you don’t have to work 24/7 to get the job done and be successful. Courtney brought in thousands in corporate sponsorships and major gifts in her first 6 months on the job, very quickly proving that she could do the job, do it well, and do it the way she wanted to do it.

fundraisersThere’s a difference.

Most people are used to events. Those are Fundraisers.

They’ve seen them, been to them, even helped plan them.

They’re galas and raffles, dinners and golf tournaments, 5Ks, and bake sales.

They’re transactional in nature and in every community on any given day, there’s one happening.

But Fundraising is a different thing.

Fundraising is about asking for money, receiving nothing in return. (Or at least it appears that way.)

Many people don’t like fundraising. Even some who are employed to do it.  Yet it’s critical to sustainability. You can’t create ongoing revenue doing one event after another.

You NEED a large group of donors around you who love the work your nonprofit does and are willing to help you be successful. You need people who give money that you can use however you need to, simply because they want to.

So why is it easier to sell an event ticket than ask for a donation?

The Mindset of Fundraising

I believe it’s mindset.

fundraisersWe tend to steer clear of things that are uncomfortable or scary.

Asking for money leaves us vulnerable – what if they say ‘no?’ What if they don’t want to be around us anymore because we asked them for something and made them feel uncomfortable?

For some people, it’s too much to risk. (By the way, this is why your Board members don’t want to ask for money or invite their friends to your event – it’s all mindset.)

Asking for donations feels too much like begging. And as my colleague Kim Lauth pointed out on a webinar for my mastermind group, “Begging is settling for leftovers.”

Yuck. Who wants leftovers from donations? We’re talking nickels and dimes here.

And trust me – you will NEVER fully fund your budget with nickels and dimes.

So why DO people like selling tickets instead of asking for money?

Here are some reasons:


We like selling tickets because… We don’t like asking for money because…
It’s easy to explain We feel compelled to explain what the organization does, how long it’s been around, what the programs are, etc. It’s exhausting to remember all that crap!
People understand quickly what they’re getting We worry that people want something in exchange for their money
There’s usually a finite period of time to sell Fundraising happens all year long – it never ends
It’s a transaction – nothing personal Feels personal somehow, like we’re asking for a favor
We know the tickets are worth it We feel manipulative somehow, like we’re taking advantage of the person


So, what do you do?

Refocus on donors

If you know about the 1-10-1000 Rule, you know that you should be doing 1 special event and doing it well.

Make it a signature event so that everyone in the community knows about it and associates it with your nonprofit. And make it a ton of fun so everyone looks forward to it, enjoys it, then talks about it for weeks afterward.

Do this 1 event, do it well, then spend your time on donor development, not more events.

You just CAN’T raise big bucks doing event after event. Ditch the events that aren’t productive and aren’t fun for you or your guests.

fundraisersOnce you get that, it’s time to refocus on your donors – those sweet people who love your cause and are willing to fund your good work.

The big question, then, is how do you move toward Fundraising and away from Fundraisers?

Here are some tips.


  • See donors as partners, not purchasers. This is an important shift. People are not ATMs. You can’t just get a check whenever you need it, with unlimited cash available. Your donors are your partners in making the good work happen – they have the money and you have the programs. Add them together and your mission gets accomplished. And be prepared to give them what they want from their experience of philanthropy.
  • Get your mindset handled. If you continue to shy away from everything that’s uncomfortable or scary, you’ll be running your whole life. Get some coaching, get some backbone – whatever it takes to start being brave enough to spend time with a donor and ASK for their support. Take it in baby steps if you have to – just start moving toward that goal of doing Fundraising instead of Fundraisers.
  • Understand the ROI of Fundraisers vs Fundraising. Events will cost you 50 cents for every dollar you raise. That’s not a great return on your investment. Plus, if you factor in the staff time/cost, you may be in the hole on your event. Fundraising, or donor development, can be as little as 10 cents to raise a dollar. That’s a WHOLE lot better result for your money. It just makes financial sense to spend time with donors.
  • Picture donors as people. Donors aren’t necessarily “rich people” or “wealthy.” Yeah, they may have more money than you, but writing a check may be an easy way for them to help. Chances are good that they are in awe of you and wish they could do the boots-on-the-ground, front-line kind of work your nonprofit does. If they want to give, by all means, let them give!
  • Envision a different future. Imagine how your stress level will go down when you aren’t constantly “hitting someone up” to buy a ticket for something. That alone should motivate you to move toward donor development.
  • Keep the good words. Every time a donor tells you what an honor it is to support your organization, make a note of it. Keep the notes, emails, and cards they send telling you what great work your organization does. These words of encouragement will add up, then you can read through them anytime you need a little boost.



Now, if you’re doing LOTS of events and fundraisers, you may have to phase them out over time so you can replace that revenue with something else. $500 is $500, no matter where it comes from. Just make a plan of what you want to let go of and when, and start brainstorming about how you’ll replace it.


Then soon, you’ll be building up a big, loyal donor base full of people who give bigger and more frequent gifts. :)

You can take your nonprofit to Get Fully Funded status, too.
It takes some work to follow the Get Fully Funded principles, and it’s totally worth it.

When you have a fully funded budget,

  • Bills are paid on time, every time
  • You have a full staff to deliver programs
  • You have a reserve – money in the bank for emergencies
  • Programs are open to new participants – there’s no waiting list
  • You make decisions based on mission and vision, not the checking balance

It’s a fun place to be!
How do I know? I’ve been there several times myself as a Development Director, and I’ve helped lots of nonprofits get there as their coach.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a distinct difference between underfunded and fully funded nonprofits. The fully funded ones are willing to do the work. They’re willing to let go of things that aren’t working. They’re willing to try something new.

Here’s the real difference between fully funded and underfunded nonprofits.


Underfunded Fully funded
Focused on “fundraisers” and events Focused on donors
Makes decisions based on what’s in the bank Make decisions based on the need in the community and their vision to meet that need
Lives from one cash infusion to the next (grant to grant or event to event) Has a steady stream of revenue all year long
Most revenue comes from one main source (one grant or one big event) Has diversified revenue streams and money comes from many sources
Lives with a poverty mentality – pinches pennies Committed to doing whatever it takes to be successful
Settles for whatever they can get Not good with status quo and will find a way to overcome it
All about the money All about the relationships


See the difference?
To get a fully funded budget, you have to work smart and focus on the right things. Being busy doesn’t cut it. You have to be busy doing the right things.
Want to see if you’re already doing it (or some of it)?

The Fully Funded Quiz

Are you ready to up your game and become a fully funded noonprofit?


Take this quiz and see how you’re doing. Simply mark the activities that you’ve done in the past 30 days to give you an idea of where you have room to grow.


In the last 30 days, have you

  • Given donors and prospects an update on how your programs are changing lives?
  • Searched out a fresh new story that you can share with donors and prospects about the work your organization does?
  • Looked at your newsletter through the eyes of a donor to make sure it’s interesting and relevant –to THEM?
  • Reviewed your newsletter, social media, and other communications to make sure they are jargon-free, focused on impact, and written in conversational language?
  • Updated your Thank You letter to make it fresh, interesting, and appealing?
  • Reviewed your donor acknowledgement process to make sure that Thank You letters are going out within 48 hours of receiving the gift?
  • Reviewed the text on your automatically-generated Thank You/Receipt for online gifts to make sure it’s warm, friendly, and relevant?
  • Called a donor just to say thanks?
  • Written a thank you note and dropped it in the mail to a donor who has given a meaningful donation?
  • Talked with a donor to ask their opinion on something?
  • Picked up the phone to call a major donor to invite them to lunch?
  • Invited donors or prospects for a tour of your facility or programs?
  • Sent a donor or prospect a link to a video about your organization or a link to a news story?
  • Actively looked for new donors for your nonprofit?
  • Added someone to your mailing or email list, with their permission?
  • Updated your Facebook page at least once a week with something interesting to your followers to keep them engaged?
  • Invited your social media followers to get more involved (volunteer, give, or something else)?
  • Posted an original video (that you shot yourself) online to give supporters a first-hand look at your programs?
  • Pitched a story to your local news media to spread the word about your cause and educate the community about your work?
  • Reached out to local civic clubs and church groups to let them know you’re available to speak?
  • Asked your Board members individually to help with a fundraising task?
  • Conducted research to see what grant opportunities are out there that you might have missed?
  • Called a foundation to see if your program needs match their area of focus?
  • Sent an “out-of-the-blue” update to a foundation to thank them for a grant they gave you?
  • Culled through your database to eliminate duplicate records and update records with new addresses?
  • Reviewed your year-to-date numbers to see how you’re doing so far?
  • Adjusted your fundraising plan based on what’s already happened this year and what you know has changed already?
  • Calculated your donor retention rate for last year and compared that to this year-to-date?
  • Reached out to a donor who’s about to lapse to invite them to renew their support?
  • Updated your wish list and shared it in your newsletter and on your website?
  • Recruited volunteers to help you with fundraising tasks that they can do, freeing up your time to focus on other things?
  • Personally thanked a volunteer for their time and commitment?
  • Thanked sponsors from your last event for their support, even if you’ve already thanked them once?
  • Asked a business to sponsor for your next special event?
  • Asked individuals to serve on your special event committee?
  • Said “no” to an opportunity that would take more time than it’s worth?
  • Looked at another nonprofit that’s a few steps ahead of you to see what you can learn from them?
  • Read a book on fundraising, leadership, or personal development?
  • Attended a webinar, workshop, or other training to learn something new?
  • Talked with a mentor or coach about how you can be a better Fundraiser?


So, how’d you do?
If you don’t have very many check marks, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Most nonprofits have a lot of room for improvement.
The important thing is that you decide to make it better. Mark this date on the calendar and choose to make it different going forward.
Remember this: you can’t do all this stuff overnight. Pick ONE THING that will make the biggest difference in moving you forward, and do it. When that one is done, go to the next thing with the biggest ROI and do it. If you can do one a week or so, you’ll see improvement pretty fast.
And you’ll be on your way to the world of Get Fully Funded.